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Guilty Statements

Hilary Putnam, 3 May 1984

Representing and Intervening: Introductory Topics in the Philosophy of Natural Science 
by Ian Hacking.
Cambridge, 287 pp., £20, October 1983, 0 521 23829 3
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... Ian Hacking has written an interesting, confusing, fast-reading, slow-digesting, exasperating, idiosyncratic book which is must reading for anyone interested in the philosophy of science. The introduction is alarming indeed. After describing Feyerabend’s position (‘There are many rationalities, many styles of reason, and also many good modes of life where nothing worth calling reason matters very much’), Hacking adds: ‘My own attitude to rationality is too much like that of Feyerabend to discuss it further ...

Locke rules

Ian Hacking, 21 November 1991

Locke. Vol. I: Epistemology 
by Michael Ayers.
Routledge, 341 pp., £90, September 1991, 0 415 06406 6
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Locke. Vol. II: Ontology 
by Michael Ayers.
Routledge, 341 pp., £90, September 1991, 0 415 06407 4
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... the Locke who had significant if ill-understood relationships with Newton, our greatest theoretician. Here is an author who says at the outset that he will not vie with such great ones: ‘’tis Ambition enough to be employed as an Under-Labourer in clearing Ground a little, and removing some of the Rubbish, that lies in the way of Knowledge.’ In ...


Ian Hacking: Religion’s evolutionary origins, 21 October 2004

In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion 
by Scott Atran.
Oxford, 348 pp., £20.99, November 2002, 0 19 514930 0
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... of Natural History: Towards an Anthropology of Science. Despite the ponderous title, it brilliantly combined four previously unrelated elements: Aristotelian biology, 17th-century natural history, a cross-cultural study of how plants are classified around the world, and up-to-the-minute cognitive science. I have grown ...

Faith, Hope and Probability

Mary Douglas, 23 May 1991

The Taming of Chance 
by Ian Hacking.
Cambridge, 264 pp., £27.50, November 1990, 0 521 38014 6
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... it had seeped from games and mathematics to marine insurance, and thence moved on to produce what Ian Hacking calls an avalanche of numbers in every kind of public concern, established theories of causality were ready to be toppled. As he said in the earlier book, the world was about to become safe for future Galileos. But the change was slow, and not in ...

Mitteleuropa am Aldwych

Ian Hacking: The Lakatos-Feyerabend Correspondence, 20 January 2000

For and against Method: including Lakatos’s Lectures on Scientific Method and the Lakatos-Feyerabend Correspondence 
by Imre Lakatos and Paul Feyerabend, edited by Matteo Motterlini.
Chicago, 451 pp., £24, October 1999, 0 226 46774 0
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... is still dominated by ideas brought to it by refugees. In the first wave, England got the Austrians, including Karl Popper and Otto Neurath (not to mention Wittgenstein), and later got Paul Feyerabend from Vienna and Imre Lakatos from Budapest. The United States got the Germans, including Rudolf Carnap and Hans Reichenbach. The famous Vienna Circle, or ...

What made Albert run

Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen: Mad Travellers, 27 May 1999

Mad Travellers: Reflections on the Reality of Transient Mental Illnesses 
by Ian Hacking.
Free Association, 239 pp., £15.95, April 1999, 1 85343 455 8
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... two, almost identical impulses? How did you become mentally ill? Besides, are you really ill? Ian Hacking has written a wonderful philosophical fable about these and several other equally fascinating questions. Its moral is simple, if somewhat untimely: what we call ‘mental illness’ is not a permanent, intangible reality. For it to develop, it ...


Ian Hacking, 4 February 1988

The False Prison: A Study of the Development of Wittgenstein’s Philosophy, Vol. I 
by David Pears.
Oxford, 202 pp., £19.50, September 1987, 0 19 824771 0
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Wittgenstein’s Nephew 
by Thomas Bernhard.
Quartet, 120 pp., £8.95, February 1987, 0 7043 2611 6
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... within three years of parting, one as a conscientious objector, and one as a loser on the Italian Front. Reflections of this sort are no part of Pears’s book, but others of a more sensible kind are. Pears seems to me the soundest commentator yet on ‘objects’. The ninth sentence of the Tractatus says that a state of affairs is a combination of ...

Putnam’s Change of Mind

Ian Hacking, 4 May 1989

Representation and Reality 
by Hilary Putnam.
MIT, 136 pp., £14.95, September 1988, 0 262 16108 7
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Mental Content 
by Colin McGinn.
Blackwell, 218 pp., £25, January 1989, 0 631 16369 7
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... Hamilton, 1837: ‘The term State has, more especially of late years, and principally by Necessitarian philosophers, been applied to all modifications of mind, indifferently.’) I admire the directness of dumping the mind and proceeding to what Patricia Churchland calls Neurophilosophy, the title of her influential book on the subject. Doing so does not ...


Ian Hacking, 18 December 1986

How institutions think 
by Mary Douglas.
Syracuse, 146 pp., $19.95, July 1986, 0 8156 2369 0
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... structure like a prison, or in wide-open entrepreneurial competition where deals are made and alliances formed. Douglas is more struck by the universality of self-sacrifice, despite the fact that opting out, being a free rider, is almost always more enticing. Moreover, when there is secession, be it from Greenpeace or the Papacy, rational self-interest ...

‘Screw you, I’m going home’

Ian Hacking, 22 June 2000

Conquest of Abundance: A Tale of Abstraction Versus the Richness of Being 
by Paul Feyerabend, edited by Bert Terpstra.
Chicago, 285 pp., £19, February 2000, 0 226 24533 0
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... pretty much a cultural relativist, allowing every culture to do its own thing, so long as, in Millian spirit, it did not intrude too much on others, but though he does not say so exactly in this book, he became increasingly incensed by cruelty, even when it was sanctioned within the cultures that practised it. He thought that clitoral excision was ...

Gabble, Twitter and Hoot

Ian Hacking: Language, deafness and the senses, 1 July 1999

I See a Voice: A Philosophical History of Language, Deafness and the Senses 
by Jonathan Rée.
HarperCollins, 399 pp., £19.99, January 1999, 0 00 255793 2
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... Rée takes us through fantastic instruments, such as a colour harpsichord designed by a Parisian Jesuit, one Father Castel. His Harpsichord for the Eyes was exhibited in Paris in 1734, after ten wearying years of unsuccessful prototypes. A successor, advertised but cancelled for a concert in Soho Square in 1757, had 500 lamps and 60 discs of coloured ...

His Father The Engineer

Ian Hacking, 28 May 1992

Understanding the present: Science and the Soul of Modern Man 
by Bryan Appleyard.
Picador, 272 pp., £14.95, May 1992, 0 330 32012 2
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... at the shores of the Pacific. I don’t refer just to the Four Dragons: it is China and the Indian subcontinent that are providing so many of the research students. Recent times have been anomalous, both in the predominance of work done in English-language institutions, and in the percentage of young people seriously following a career in one of the ...

Making up the mind

Ian Hacking, 1 September 1988

The Computer and the Mind: An Introduction to Cognitive Science 
by P.N. Johnson-Laird.
Harvard/Fontana, 444 pp., £23.50, May 1988, 0 674 15615 3
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... to cognitive science are seldom neutral. They’re not like beginners’ textbooks of Norwegian grammar or topology, nor do they much resemble popular science-writing about quarks or gene-splicing. Instead they are evangelical. Alongside Dr Johnson-Laird’s friendly and often charming account of ingenious computational ideas, there’s the message ...

Living Things

Ian Hacking, 21 February 1991

Cognitive Foundations of Natural History: Towards an Anthropology of Science 
by Scott Atran.
Cambridge, 360 pp., £35, August 1990, 0 521 37293 3
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... had begun to bring back a lot of new plants. Cesalpino (1519-1603) had to re-systematise Aristotelian taxonomy to accommodate new kinds. Kinds, once sorted instinctively, now were so plentiful that they needed a general principle to put them in order. He fixed on the seeds, fruits or flowers as the keys to placing plants on a universal taxonomic tree. Local ...

The Passing Show

Ian Hacking, 2 January 1997

On Blindness: Letters between Bryan Magee and Martin Milligan 
Oxford, 188 pp., £16.99, September 1995, 0 19 823543 7Show More
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... Bryan Magee is a brilliant philosophical entrepreneur, host of two BBC television series in which he interviewed live philosophers and dead ones (the latter mediated by other live ones). The late Martin Milligan was a talented philosopher, one who was blind, not from birth but early in life. Magee, with characteristic panache, had a splendid idea: let’s get at some philosophical issues about perception by pursuing a dialogue ...

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